Biography Esther Tobey née McCoy

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Biography Esther Tobey née McCoy

Submitted: January 12, 2018

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Submitted: January 12, 2018



Esther Tobey née McCoy

Birth: Nov. 18, 1904 Horatio Sevier County, Arkansas, USA

Death: Dec. 30, 1989 Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California, USA

Esther Tobey née McCoy aka Esther McCoy (1904-1989), an architectural historian and critic, died of emphysema at her home in Santa Monica, California. She was 85 years old.

She was born in Horatio, Sevier County, Arkansas, grew up in Coffeyville, Kansas, and was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.

A specialist in West Coast architecture, McCoy was the author of many books (most notably 'Five California Architects' 1960) and hundreds of articles in leading architectural publications.

From Kansas she went first to New York City, and had enough money in her pocket to select a nice apartment on Gramercy Park.  She was never without plenty of money.  There she fell in with a leftist coterie which included the loathsome Saul David Alinsky (1909-1972), Floyd Dell (1887-1969), Max Eastman (1883-1969), Arturo Giovannitti (1884-1959), Robert Minor (1884-1952), John Reed (1887-1920), Boardman Robinson (1876-1952), Berkeley Greene Tobey (1881-1962), and Art Young (1866-1943).

She began her career in New York writing architecture reviews for a number of publishers.

She was a committed leftist and demimondaine who wrote for Marguerite Tjader Harris' (1901-1986) 'Direction' (1937-1945) (‘Direction’ was coyly described as “anti-fascist”), Upton Sinclair Jr.'s (1878-1968) EPIC ['End Poverty in California'] News (1934), and the newspaper 'United Progressive News' (1935-1938).

Then to the West Coast: ''It was she, almost single-handedly, who awakened serious scholars to the extraordinary richness of California architecture,'' wrote Paul Goldberger (1950-), then architecture critic for The New York Times, when a new edition of McCoy's 1960 work, ''Five California Architects,'' appeared in 1975. Her book, he added, was largely responsible for rescuing five almost-forgotten architects: Bernard Ralph Maybeck (1862-1957), Irving John Gill (1870-1936), Rudolph Michael Schindler, born Rudolf Michael Schlesinger (1887-1953), Charles Sumner Greene (1868-1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870–1954) from obscurity.

Calling McCoy ''the pre-eminent writer of California architecture,'' César Pelli (1926-), a former dean of the Yale School of Architecture, told The Times in a 1984 interview, ''Our knowledge of Southern California architecture has been primarily formed by her research, her first-hand knowledge and her writing, which is so precise and passionate.''

She worked as a draftsman in the Hollywood office of Rudolph Michael Schindler (1887-1953) from 1944 to 1947 and began writing about the architects she had come to know. In 1985, she was given the American Institute of Architects' national honor award for excellence.

Husband: Berkeley Greene Tobey aka Berkeley G. Tobey aka Berkeley Tobey (1881-1962) married 1941. They lived for a while in Ensenada, B.C.N., Mexico.  Esther was his second wife;

Lovers: Geoffrey Eaton (?-?), Albert Robert (?-?);

Sister: Ruth Hahn née McCoy of Denver, Colorado;

Nephew: John McCoy of Shanghai PRC.

Family links:


  James Lyons McCoy (1862 - 1948)

  Katherine May Bretz McCoy (1870 - 1968)


  Clarence Lee McCoy (1892 - 1984)*

  James Laurence McCoy (1893 - 1979)*

  Katie Ray McCoy (1897 - 1902)*

  William J. McCoy (1899 - 1975)*

  Elizabeth A McCoy (1901 - 1901)*

  Esther McCoy Tobey (1904 - 1989)

  Francis M. McCoy (1906 - 1939)*

  Ralph McCoy (1912 - 1914)*

© Copyright 2018 Ralph Monclar. All rights reserved.

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